The fantasy season ended last week for the majority of season-long players, but DFS has extended the utility of matchups information for the rest of the NFL season and playoffs, and I’m extending my start and sit advice in step. Week 17 may be the most difficult week to play matchups because differences in teams’ incentives can cause normal starters to be benched before or even during games. I tried to mention those concerns where I have them, but it may also behoove you to wait until Saturday or Sunday morning to confirm your lineups when news about teams like the Texans and Bills could clue you into their strategic plans.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) — home and road and dome and outside — the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
With No. 1 fantasy quarterback Lamar Jackson sitting out this week following the Ravens’ clinching of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, either the No. 2 scorer from this season (Deshaun Watson) or the No. 1 scorer from last season (Patrick Mahomes) would figure to take over the top spot in my Week 17 rankings. I have the former in that spot on paper. He is at home against a Titans defense that is No. 20 in pass defense DVOA and increases pass plays by 5%. But Watson is a risk even if he plays because the Texans have already secured a playoff berth and cannot jump up to a top-two seed to earn a bye.
For most daily plays, I’d rather look at one of Tom Brady, Jameis Winston, or Jared Goff. Brady has obviously not lived up to his career standards in fantasy this season, but a home matchup against the Dolphins could be the panacea he needs leading into the playoffs. The Dolphins are No. 32 in pass defense DVOA and they increase passing yards and touchdowns by 10% and 50%, respectively. Meanwhile, Winston draws a Falcons defense that is much weaker against the pass (No. 26 DVOA) than the run (No. 14) and also increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 14%. I have both Brady and Winston with a better ranking — seventh and second — than their $6,000 and $6,600 DraftKings prices would suggest.
Jared Goff demands a little more of an explanation. His home matchup against the Cardinals should be really helpful. They are No. 27 in pass defense DVOA, increase pass plays by 6%, and increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 21%. But after finishing among the passing leaders with 5.6 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road from 2017 to 18, Goff has actually scored 3.4 fewer fantasy points per game at home this season. My No. 6 ranking of him this week relies on the broader trend, but I’m nervous enough that I’d probably pass up Goff for another option unless I were playing a Goff-and-Tyler Higbee stack in a tournament.
The bulk of the worst passing matchups this week come for quarterbacks who are easy enough to avoid in fantasy. Ryan Fitzpatrick is on the road against the Patriots’ No. 1 pass defense DVOA. Sam Darnold is on the road against the Bills’ No. 3 pass defense DVOA, and he has a 79% chance of rain plus moderate forecasted winds to contend with. And Derek Carr is on the road in 29-degree temperatures in Denver. The Broncos cut pass plays by 5% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 21%, making them a worse matchup in fantasy than in reality with a middle-of-the-pack No. 15 pass defense DVOA.
The two such quarterbacks you may be tempted to use are Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. I would definitely recommend against the former. A bad call-gifted last possession against the Titans last week bailed out another middling Brees performance on the road. But even with the resulting nice road day, Brees has scored 11.0 fewer fantasy points per game on the road than at home this year, and 5.4 fewer over the last three years. Meanwhile, Brees faces a Panthers defense that is dramatically weaker against the run (No. 32 DVOA) than the pass (No. 8). In possible light rain, look for the Saints to play the matchup and rely more heavily on Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. Brees is the second-most expensive quarterback at $7,000, but I ranked him 24th this week.
Wilson has his own poor ranking at No. 15 for me this week, but that may not capture the recent shift of the 49ers’ pass defense. For the season, the 49ers are fearsome. They have the No. 2 pass defense DVOA and cut pass plays by 12%, second-most in football. But dealing with as many injuries as they are, they’ve allowed Goff and Brees to throw for 300 yards apiece the last two weeks, and have allowed nine total passing touchdowns over the last three weeks, the same number they allowed between Weeks 3 and 13. Perhaps Wilson can follow the recent trend. He will certainly be motivated to do so with first place in the NFC West on the line.
I already mentioned how I prefer Kamara over Brees in fantasy this week, but I should probably spend some ink on just how bad the Panthers run defense is. It is No. 32 in run defense DVOA, increases run plays by 6%, and increases rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 22% and 149%, both the most in football. In a completely typical result, the Panthers allowed Marlon Mack and his backup Jordan Wilkins to run for 95 and 84 respective yards and a touchdown apiece. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same from Kamara and Latavius Murray this week. At $7,800 and $5,600 in DraftKings, both are solid buys. And Mack himself looks like a solid choice for the second straight week. His new opponent, the Jaguars, aren’t quite as friendly to rushers as the Panthers, but they are still No. 31 in run defense DVOA and increase run plays by 8%, rushing yards per attempt by 13%, and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 46%.
Speaking of teammate pairs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are both usable on the road against the Bengals this week. The Bengals are No. 28 in run defense DVOA and also No. 30 in pass coverage DVOA against running backs (subscription required). That’s good news for both Browns teammates, as is the Bengals’ tendency to increase their opponents’ run plays by 20%, the most in football. There should be plenty of carries to buoy both Chubb and Hunt in fantasy, and a 58% chance of rain in Cincinnati should motivate the Browns to rely on their backs.
Ezekiel Elliott and Sony Michel have excellent rushing matchups against the Redskins and Dolphins, teams that increase run plays by 17% and 18%, both top-three in football. They just don’t have absolute incentive to log heavy carry volumes. The Cowboys will be eliminated by an Eagles win, so an early Eagles lead in the same 4:25 time slot may induce the Cowboys to bench Elliott for his backup Tony Pollard. Meanwhile, the Patriots clinch a bye with either a win or a Chiefs loss. The latter seems unlikely to happen with the Chiefs hosting the Chargers, so I’d feel better about Michel of the two.
Benny Snell figures to be the Steelers’ primary early-down back this Sunday with James Conner unable to practice midweek. But I still wouldn’t rely on him in DFS this week. The Ravens seem more likely to rest their offensive skill players and cornerbacks than run-stoppers, and they generally decrease run plays by 18%, second-most in football.
I think the only three backs on the bad matchups list I’d consider throwing in a DFS lineup are Devin Singletary, De’Lance Turner, and Gus Edwards. Singletary has emerged as volume RB1 and should catch enough passes to counterbalance a Jets run defense that cuts rushing yards and touchdowns by 29% and 17%. Meanwhile, Turner and Edwards have low $3,300 and $4,800 DraftKings prices that may not reflect the roles they will play for their teams this week. Myles Gaskin of the Dolphins set career highs with nine and 16 carries the last two weeks, seemingly taking over primary early-down duties from Patrick Laird. But he landed on injured reserve this week, perhaps leaving Turner as the de facto primary early-down option. Double-digit carries would justify his price even against a Patriots defense that cuts run plays by 11% and cuts rushing touchdowns by 55%, second-most in football.
Edwards and rookie teammate Justice Hill have very similar DraftKings prices of $4,800 and $4,600, which makes some sense because the Steelers have the No. 3 run defense DVOA and decrease rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 18% and 64%, factors that should hurt Edwards more than the receiving back Hill. But without Mark Ingram on the field, I expect Edwards to out-touch Hill by a ratio of about 3-to-2, a split that would more than counterbalance the matchup and make Edwards a back-end RB3, well worth his price.
Many of the best matchup wide receivers are the best fantasy receivers, in general. You aren’t going to get much value by putting Julio Jones or DeAndre Hopkins in your DFS lineups, but by all means, do it. Jones draws a Buccaneers defense that is No. 19 in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers and increases pass plays by 17%, and Hopkins draws a Titans defense that is No. 5 in DVOA against No. 1 receivers and increases pass plays by 5%.
If you are hunting for value, I’d consider Robert Woods and Breshad Perriman. The former is at home against a Cardinals defense that is No. 26 in DVOA against No. 1 receivers, increases pass plays by 6%, and increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 21%. Tyler Higbee will earn a bigger boost, but Woods still jumps from 15th in true talent to sixth in my weekly rankings, a better position than his $7,000 DraftKings salary would suggest. Meanwhile, Perriman didn’t answer his three-touchdown Week 15 performance with a score last week, but he did pace the injury-depleted Buccaneers receiving corps with 12 targets, seven receptions, and 102 yards. Assuming Chris Godwin misses another week, Perriman can have an encore performance against a Falcons defense that is No. 26 in pass defense DVOA and increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 14%.
I would never fully discourage you from playing Michael Thomas or Keenan Allen in DFS. Even with bad matchups, they remain in my weekly top 10. But Thomas does draw that Panthers matchup that should skew more Saints offensive work toward the run, and Allen has to contend with poor conditions — 35 degrees and moderate winds — in Kansas City and a Chiefs defense that is No. 2 in DVOA against No. 1 receivers.
I will try to talk you out of using DeVante Parker. Parker is as hot as anyone in fantasy, but the Patriots defense is death to wide receivers of all sizes and skill sets. They are No. 1 in pass defense DVOA and No. 1 against every receiving grouping. They decrease pass plays by 6%, passing yards per attempt by 17%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 29%. Even if you think my No. 17 true-talent ranking of Parker is too low, his 15-place drop from there would make him a poor start regardless given his $7,100 price in DraftKings.
I’ve already teased Higbee’s inclusion on this list several times. Frankly, I’m not sure Higbee needs a great matchup at this point. He overcame the No. 2 DVOA defense against tight ends in the 49ers last week with nine catches and 104 yards, and now has 11 targets and 21.2 fantasy points per game over his last four games, the most among tight ends in football. That trend boosted him to third in my true-talent rankings, and he jumps further to second this week against the best defensive matchup for tight ends, the Cardinals. The Cardinals are No. 32 in DVOA defense against tight ends and allow 73 yards per game to the position, the most in football. Even with the fourth-highest DraftKings price tag of $5,600, I think Higbee is bargain.
If you don’t want to join the rest of the DFS world with a Higbee play this week, I’d also suggest a couple of deeper value plays in Jason Witten and Darren Fells. The former faces a Redskins defense that is No. 32 in DVOA defense against tight ends and allows 61 yards per game to the position. Witten is my No. 10 tight end this week but with just the 14th highest DraftKings price tag of $3,900. Meanwhile, Fells has a similar story, facing a Titans defense that is No. 27 in DVOA against tight ends and allows 57 yards per game to the position. His fantasy success will likely be a bit more touchdown-dependent, but at just $3,100, that’s a reasonable gamble to take.
Travis Kelce, George Kittle, and maybe even Hunter Henry are in that Michael Thomas mold of players you shouldn’t necessarily avoid in daily just because of bad matchups. All three remain in my top seven at the position this week despite difficult opponents. Darren Waller is eighth, but he crosses the threshold for me. He is on the road in Denver this week, facing a Broncos defense that is No. 6 in DVOA against tight ends. They also generally decrease pass plays by 5% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 21%, but even those tendencies aren’t the reason to avoid Waller. Since rookie slot receiver Hunter Renfrow became a feature part of the team’s offense in Week 8, Waller has seen his target volume and fantasy scoring drop precipitously. He rebounded when Renfrow was out from Weeks 13 to 15, but he cratered again last week when Renfrow returned from his rib injury.
Renfrow should play in Week 17, and for me, that makes Waller a clear stay-way with a top five DraftKings price of $5,400.